BY WILL WILLEMS
DOVER — The Lebanon Tigers football team drove across the county Friday night looking to win a share of the Sagamore Conference title for the first time since 2006.
Western Boone had other ideas. Logan Wethington and Riggs Baxter connected for three touchdown passes in the game and the Stars topped Lebanon for the fourth-straight time 21-17.
“You always want to beat your rival,” Western Boone head coach Justin Pelley said. “We shot ourselves in the foot a couple of times in the first quarter, so we had to settle our boys down. I am happy the way we responded. I thought we gave some stuff away in the first half and we came back with intensity and that is what we needed to do. We scored when we needed to score and Riggs Baxter was Riggs Baxter.”
Baxter finished the game with nine catches for 166 yards.
Lebanon head coach Kent Wright said the junior’s play was the difference in the close game.
“The difference was Riggs Baxter,” Wright said. “Obviously he made some big plays. We were 1 of 9 on third down and they were 6 of 12, so that was huge as well. But at the end of the day, Riggs beat us pretty well.”
Wright went on to say that there aren’t many playmakers with the amount of talent as Baxter in the Sagamore Conference.
“He is pretty good,” Wright said. “He is the best receiver we have seen all year I think. I would hate to say who the best is when you have some really good players out there. Tri-West has a couple of really good athletes, Jalen West from North Mont. hurt us. There are a lot of good athletes and I don’t know who the best one is, but Riggs is one of the best receivers. He changed the game and was the difference. He is their play maker and coach Pelley did a good job of going to him and he made plays for them.”
It didn’t take long for the fireworks to start in the game.
Western Boone took the opening kickoff and used just four plays to score, when Wethington connected with Baxter for a 47-yard touchdown pass. The extra point was no good, giving Western Boone a 6-0 lead.
Lebanon wasted little time to responded, as on the first play from scrimmage, Jamason Wright broke free for a 61-yard touchdown run. After the extra point from Nathan Kincaid, the Tigers held a 7-6 lead.
The score remained that way for most of the first half.
Lebanon twice drove deep into Western Boone territory, but failed to convert on long fourth down attempts.
Wright said that while the Western Boone defense was tough, he thought his team made some mistakes in execution.
“I don’t know if they did anything different,” Wright said. “I thought it was more mental breakdowns on our part to be honest. I don’t know how well we really blocked tonight and we will look at the film and see.”
Western Boone got the ball back on their own 8 yardline with the clock running down in the first half.
After a big 37-yard completion to Nathanial Bye on the second play of the drive, the Stars executed their twominute offense to perfection, getting an acrobatic 16-yard touchdown catch from Baxter with 29.6 seconds left in the half. Bye ran in the two-point conversion to give Western Boone a 14-7 lead at the half.
Lebanon appeared to be marching in for the tying touchdown on the opening drive of the second half, moving the ball down to the Western Boone 13, but after backto- back procedure penalties, they had to settle for a 40-yard field goal attempt, which was no good.
The Tigers’ defense set the offense up again just minutes later, with Harrison Hollis intercepting a Wethington pass at the Lebanon 45 yardline.
Six plays later Wright ran it in from eight yards out to tie the game at 14 with 4:59 left in the third quarter.
Wright ran the ball 27 times for 194 yards and the two touchdowns.
“I thought he probably ran as hard as he ever has,” coach Wright said. “He did a good job and was fighting for yards. I thought he was going to break another one there at the end, and they just caught him. But I am really proud of him.”
Western Boone’s ensuing drive ended with an interception, but Lebanon couldn’t really advance the ball, punting it away after one first down.
The Stars started on their own 40, and went 60 yards in four plays, with Wethington connecting with Baxter on a short crossing route that he took 47 yards to the endzone with 10:21 to play in the game.
Pelley was happy with the team’s passing attack.
“Lebanon up front gave us some problems,” he said. “They got some pressure on us and we had to settle Logan down a little bit and he did because he is a good football player and that is what good players do. Once he calmed down, he threw a couple of great balls to Riggs for touchdowns. But it is a credit to everyone. Nathanial Bye made a couple of good catches, Cameron Cline did a great job and our line did a great job.”
After the two teams traded punts, Lebanon took over at their own 27 with around six minutes remaining in the game.
After a six-yard run by Isaac Harker on first down, Harker found Damon Moss for a 34 yard gain to the Western Boone 33.
Wright rank for 24 yards on the next play and suddenly Lebanon had first-and-goal on the 9 yardline.
But after two running plays went for a net of negative one yard, Harker threw incomplete on third down.
Lebanon settled for a 27-yard field goal by Kincaid which cut the score to 21-17 with 3:31 to play in the game.
“It was fourth-and-10 so I wanted to get out of there with some points,” coach Wright said of the decision to kick rather than go for the tie. “It was going to take two scores to win and with 3:30 left and three timeouts, so I had confidence our defense could make a stop. We had stopped them almost the entire second half, but they made a big play (on the next drive).”
Pelley was happy with the way the Stars’ defense made big plays deep in their own territory.
“We held them to a few field attempts and that was big,” he said. “It was a bend but don’t break mentality. I know everyone says that, but that is what we did tonight. They won the game for us really. They are a good football team. They can run the football, that is what they do, and I feel like we got them out of that a little bit and they had to start throwing it. They got the ball down there but we stopped them on the 10 yard line.”
Western Boone started the next drive knowing they need a couple of first downs to ice the game.
After two running plays did very little, they were faced with a third-and-8 with about 2:30 minutes left.
Wethington threw a swing pass to Baxter that went for 17 yards and clinched the victory for the Stars.
“I am going to get the ball in (Riggs’) hands any chance I get,” Pelley said of the decisive play call. “I trust Logan, I trust Riggs and I trust our line. That was the gameplan. We wanted to get him out wide and get him the ball. We weren’t going to go away from that in the fourth quarter.”
The game was senior night for the Stars.
Pelley said that he has enjoyed working with the seniors on the team.
“They have meant a lot,” Pelley said. “I’m learning all the traditions and all the things too, so I am learning with them. But those guys have done everything we have asked them and that is not easy to do in this day and age. Football is kind of a year long thing now and we ask an awful lot of them. They are the ones that have stuck with it and that is why they are with us still. That speaks a lot about them.”
For Western Boone, it ended a two-game losing streak.
Pelley said it was important to get a win to get some momentum heading into the sectional.
“It is always important to get a win,” Pelley said. “Our seniors hadn’t been beat by these guys so that was the mentality this week — to get that WeBo swagger back. We needed something good to happen. We have dealt with a lot of adversity this year since game one. We finally got some guys healthy, got some guys back and had guys step up. That is the kind of kids we have and I love them.”
The Stars host West Vigo next Friday in the opening round of the sectional.
The two teams met in the 2010 sectional, with Western Boone winning 47-3.
“We just have to do what we do,” Pelley said “We have to eliminate penalties. That is a mental thing that we have to fix. Then just move the ball. Go back to running our offense a little better and get back to running the ball. We kind of went away from that tonight because that was their strength. We tried to equalize that tonight and I think we did. Our kids made plays tonight and we didn’t the last couple of weeks.”
The Tigers will look to regroup after losing their chance at the conference title.
They also host a sectional game next week, against Plainfield.
“We have the 24-hour rule, so we are going to sulk a little bit because this one stings a little more than some of the others,” Wright said. “But after tomorrow it is time to get ready for Plainfield. They are pretty big and our defense is going to have to play a little better. We were hot early and haven’t been as strong lately.”
Both games are scheduled to kickoff at 7 p.m.